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Sustainable tourism and ‘voluntourism’

  • by JW

A more imaginative future for tourism, one that according to the tourism board’s vision, has “the needs, desires and lifestyle of the Faroese people as its focal point.”


The Faroes are being very inventive with digital solutions for their tourist industry:

Visit Faroe Islands from home – Visit Faroe Islands

They have also been experimenting with ‘voluntourism’:

Closed for Maintenance, Open for voluntourism – Visit Faroe Islands

This practice is normally associated with tourists doing ‘good deeds’ in the developing world – and as such it hasn’t always had a good press – but can indeed do good if done properly, as this piece from last month shows:

Voluntourism: the Good and the Bad | World Vision Canada

Two years ago, the Faroes tried this:

Sustainable tourism: why the Faroe Islands closed for maintenance

When the north Atlantic islands shut for a weekend to all but ‘voluntourists’ doing conservation projects, it was a win-win for locals and visitors

Only 11 people live in Gasadalur today, and without the tunnel it would probably have become one of Faroes’ abandoned villages. Today, I’m doing the climb with several local men, plus three mathematicians from Washington DC, a pharmacist from Glasgow, a civil servant from London, two Finnish students and two biochemists from Bratislava. They’re all volunteers who have come to the islands as a part of a tourism initiative that declared the country “closed for maintenance” for one weekend last month.

“As soon as we heard about it we signed up,” said Rachel Levy, one of the American volunteers who travelled here with her husband Sam and their college-age daughter Miriam. “It’s definitely the way we like to travel, meeting local people and feeling we’ve made some kind of positive contribution.”

We “voluntourists” (as Visit Faroe Islands calls us) have the task of clearing loose stones from the path, and hammering wooden stakes into the grass to mark a safe, easily visible route over the mountain. Historically, clearing loose stones was done by the villagers, but thanks to the road they rarely walk over the mountain these days.It’s being refurbished mainly for the burgeoning numbers of tourists who explore this archipelago of rugged mountains, prolific seabirds and wild-looking sheep. Gásadalur also has one of the Faroes’ most-photographed sights: a waterfall that gushes straight from the cliff face into the Atlantic below.

Sustainable tourism: why the Faroe Islands closed for maintenance | Faroe Islands holidays | The Guardian

Indeed, the Faroes have won accolades:

The destinations honored in this year’s Global Vision Awards are taking measures to protect their land and communities for generations of visitors (and residents) to come. 

What’s the story you want to tell about your homeland? Visit Faroe Islands, the tourism board for the North Atlantic archipelago, has answered that question in remarkably innovative ways over the past couple of years. In 2019, it gained attention for announcing that the islands were “Closed for Maintenance,” an initiative that shut down tourism for a weekend and invited a small number of volunteers to come help fix the place up. (More than 3,500 people applied for 100 slots.)

“We wanted to maintain and preserve some locations that were starting to feel the effects of an increase in tourism,” says Levi Hanssen, a manager at the tourism board. “We wanted to reassure Faroe Islanders that Visit Faroe Islands is considerate of the environment, despite our efforts to increase tourism. And we wanted to raise awareness of the Faroe Islands as a destination.”

Much of the work involved rehabbing old hiking paths, building new ones, and adding wayfinding markers. The venture was so successful that Visit Faroe Islands planned a 2020 sequel. Then the pandemic hit. With foreigners unable to visit in person, the tourism board recruited locals to provide live virtual tours. It created a first-of-its-kind “remote tourism tool” that allowed armchair travelers to interact online with guides as they explored the islands’ villages, farms, and sweeping ocean vistas. Twenty-three tours were conducted during 2020, including four by boat, one by helicopter, and one on horseback; recordings can be screened on the Visit Faroe Islands website. All of this is meant to contribute to a more sustainable, more imaginative future for tourism, one that according to the tourism board’s vision, has “the needs, desires and lifestyle of the Faroese people as its focal point.”

Global Vision Awards 2021: Destinations Leading the Charge for Sustainable Tourism | Travel + Leisure

image: Closed for maintenance, open for voluntourism – Official Statement by Prime Minister – YouTube